Dr David Caron (left) tells the story of the reclusive artist, raised in a Dublin tenement, who established the bar for artistic excellence in the exacting craft of stained glass and the beautiful windows he created for Loughrea Cathedral.
Of all areas of the visual arts in twentieth century Ireland, it is in the field of stained glass that the country acquired an international reputation for artistic excellence and superb craftsmanship.
The Irish stained glass revival had its origins in County Galway on the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when the ardent Catholic landlord Edward Martyn, who was also a distinguished playwright and generous philanthropist, decided to erect a memorial stained glass window to his mother in their parish church at Labane, Ardrahan, not far from Loughrea.
Disappointed by the standard of stained glass being produced in Ireland and eager to avoid importing from abroad, he set about establishing stained glass classes, to be taught in the Arts and Crafts tradition, at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. His initiative was ably abetted by his friend the renowned portrait painter, Sarah Purser, who quickly took principal responsibility and set up a new stained glass studio named An Túr Gloine (Tower of Glass) which opened in January 1903 and where graduates of the School’s stained glass classes would be employed.
In order for An Túr Gloine to be a success the studio needed immediate patrons and Edward Martyn did not hesitate to draw upon his Loughrea connections; as a generous benefactor to the Catholic Church he was on excellent terms with his local bishop, Dr Healy, Bishop of Clonfert, who was then giving consideration to the embellishment of his newly constructed cathedral.
Dr Healy, who like Martyn was also a supporter of home industry, was assisted by the cathedral’s dynamic administrator, Fr Jeremiah O’Donovan. With a timely financial bequest from a local woman who had emigrated to the USA, the first of many An Túr Gloine windows was ordered for the cathedral; located in the sanctuary, it depicts The Annunciation.
The initial recruit to An Túr Gloine was Michael Healy (1873–1941) and it is recorded that he worked on Loughrea’s The Annunciation under the supervision by A.E. Child, the London-born stained glass artist who was both instructor of the craft at the School of Art and manager at An Túr Gloine. For Healy, his painting of an angel in The Annunciation was the beginning of a creative association with the cathedral that continued for almost four decades, concluding with one of his masterpieces the year before he died.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own